email a friend
printable version
Kakapo Strigops habroptila
BirdLife Species Champion Rio Tinto
For information about BirdLife Species Champions and Species Guardians visit the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

This species only survives as a tiny population on four offshore islands. With the instigation of intensive management in 1995, numbers are now increasing, but the population trend over the last three generations has still been extremely rapid; it therefore qualifies as Critically Endangered.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
Turbott, E. G. 1990. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

Taxonomic note
Gender agreement of species name follows David and Gosselin (2002b).

Strigops habroptilus BirdLife International (2004), Strigops habroptilus BirdLife International (2000), Strigops habroptilus Collar et al. (1994), Strigops habroptilus Collar and Andrew (1988), Strigops habroptilus Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993), Strigops habroptilus Turbott (1990)

58-64 cm. Flightless, nocturnal, lek-breeding, green parrot. Moss-green upperparts. Greenish-yellow underparts. Brown-and-yellow mottling of feathers. Owl-like facial disk. Male has broader head, larger bill. Weighs up to 4 kg. Female c.65% male weight. Voice Males 'boom' repetitively at night to attract females, often audible for up to 5 km, for three to five months in some years.

Distribution and population
This species formerly occurred throughout most of the North, South and Stewart Islands, New Zealand. Although it disappeared from most of its original range in the wake of human colonisation, the species remained abundant in Fiordland and some other higher-rainfall and more sparsely inhabited parts of South Island until the early twentieth century (Clout and Merton 1998). By 1976, however, the known population had been reduced to 18 birds, all males, all in Fiordland. In 1977, a rapidly declining population of c. 150 birds was discovered on Stewart Island. Between 1980 and 1992, 61 remaining Stewart Island birds were transferred to offshore islands (Merton 1998, Merton and Clout 1998, Higgins 1999, Merton et al. 1999), and are presently located on Codfish and Anchor Islands (R. J. Moorhouse in litt. 2007). The last accepted North Island record was in 1927, the last South Island record of three males in Fiordland in 1987, and the last Stewart Island record of a female found and transferred to Codfish Island in 1997 (Powlesland et al. 2006). In 2009, a male which was one of four transferred from Stewart to Codfish in 1987 was refound after having been missing for 21 years (Anon. 2009). It is likely to be extinct in its natural range. In 2005, birds were present on four islands: Codfish, Chalky, Anchor and Maud (Powlesland et al. 2006). However since then, birds have been moved between islands and the majority of the population are now found on Codfish Island and Anchor Island (Anon. 2015). 

In 1999, 26 females and 36 males survived (Merton and Clout 1999), comprising 50 individuals of breeding age, six subadults and six juveniles. The population stabilised, and has begun to slowly increase (Higgins 1999, Merton et al. 1999, P. Jansen in litt. 1999) following the implementation of intensive management (Higgins 1999, Merton and Clout 1999, Merton et al. 1999). By 2005, the kakapo population stood at 86 (D. Merton in litt. 2005), of which 52 were breeding adults (21 females and 31 males) and 34 were juveniles (P. Jansen in litt. 2004, D. Merton in litt. 2005); a productive breeding year in 2009 saw the total population increase to 124 birds (Merton 2009), and there were known to be 126 birds in early 2012, including 78 breeding adults (R. J. Moorhouse in litt. 2012). In 2014 there were 110 adults of breeding age and 16 juveniles (<5 years old) (Kakapo Recovery 2014).

Population justification
In 2014 there were 126 individuals, including 110 breeding adults (Kakapo Recovery 2014).

Trend justification
The species was described as still abundant in Fiordland and some other parts of South Island in the early twentieth century. The current population comprises of at least 78 breeding adults, and 126 birds in total (R. J. Moorhouse in litt. 2012), so although the population is now starting to slowly increase, it has declined by >80% in the last 100 years (<3 generations) (P. Jansen in litt. 2004, D. Merton in litt. 2005, Merton 2009).

This large, flightless, nocturnal parrot feeds on leaves, stems, roots, fruit, nectar and seeds, and, prior to human colonisation, it formerly inhabited a range of vegetation types throughout most of the North, South and Stewart Islands. It breeds once every two to five years, coinciding with periodic superabundant seeding or fruiting periods of key podocarp plant species: on Codfish, Stewart and Pearl Islands nesting has only occurred when rimu Dacrydium cupressinum or pink pine Halocarpus biformis fruit has been abundant (Harper et al. 2006). Males cluster in traditional lekking sites and advertise their presence by calling each night for about three months, with mating occurring mainly between January and early March (Powlesland et al. 2006). One to four eggs are laid and all parental care is performed by the female, with eggs and chicks being left unattended for several hours at night. Female Kakapo take 6-11 years to reach breeding age, and may live at least 90 years (P. Jansen in litt. 2004). One productive male is at least 30 years old, and probably much older. Adult survivorship is now more than 99% per year (Lloyd and Powlesland 1994, Cresswell 1996, Clout and Merton 1998, Merton and Clout 1998, 1999, Higgins 1999, Merton et al. 1999).

On Stewart Island, over 50% of monitored adults were killed each year by cats (Clout and Merton 1998). Introduced Stoat Mustela erminea and Black Rat Rattus rattus contributed to its decline and Polynesian Rats Rattus exulans threaten nesting birds (Collar and Sharpe 2014). Abnormally low egg fertility and exceedingly low natural reproductive and recruitment rates are major concerns. In 2004, three juveniles died of septicaemia caused by the bacteria Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae (erysipelas), a disease which had not previously been reported in the species (P. Jansen in litt. 2004)

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. Supplementary feeding has increased the success of breeding attempts, and may be able to be used to trigger breeding: supplementary foods with low macronutrient:calcium ratios may be most effective in supporting increased reproduction (Higgins 1999, Merton et al. 1999, Raubenheimer and Simpson 2006, Anon. 2008). All individuals are radio-tagged, and tracked throughout the year. Each nest is monitored continuously using infra-red video cameras, and heat pads are placed over eggs and nestlings while females forage. In 1998, the Polynesian Rat Rattus exulans (a predator of eggs and nestlings) was eradicated from Codfish (Merton et al. 1999). Extensive research is on-going (Merton 1997, P. Jansen in litt. 1999). Methods of hand-rearing chicks are being refined. Reducing supplementary feeding levels has been shown to increase the percentage of female chicks produced and may redress the skewed gender balance (Clout et al. 2002, Robertson et al. 2006). Genetic diversity of the remaining population is managed to improve hatching rates (Merton 2006).

Translocations have been carried out to take advantage of locally abundant food supplies and increase the frequency of breeding attempts (Merton 2006). Trials of artificial insemination methods have taken place (Anon. 2008b), and by early 2012 three chicks had been produced using this technique (R. J. Moorhouse in litt. 2012). In 2008, seven chicks hatched on Codfish Island were transferred to specialised facilities to be hand-raised, as rimu fruit failed to ripen (Hirschfeld 2008). During the 2014 breeding season, six Kakapo chicks successfully hatched, three were hand-reared and the other three were reared in the wild, they all fledged on Codfish Island (Kakapo Recovery 2014). A search for any remaining birds in Fiordland was completed in 2006, with no birds found and no evidence of their continued existence. A Kakapo Recovery Plan (the third since 1989), produced in partnership between the Department of Conservation, Forest & Bird and Rio Tinto Alcan (formerly Comalco), covers the period 2006-2015.

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Continue research to identify key factors that limit breeding frequency and productivity, and address these urgently (Cresswell 1996). Maintain existing management practices that have facilitated a recent increase in the population, and increase the number of females to 60 by 2016. Restore sufficient habitat to cater for the population increase and develop captive breeding programmes (Collar and Butchart 2013). Maintain public awareness and support (Hirschfeld 2009).

Anon. 2008. How to make a big-boned bird breed. New Scientist 199(2673): 16.

Anon. 2008. Kakapo set to breed. Forest and Bird: 3.

Anon. 2009. Long lost Kakapo rediscovered after 21 years. Available at: #

Anon. 2015. In the wild. Kakapo Recovery. Available at: (Accessed: 30/09/2015).

Clout, M.; Merton, D. 1998. Saving the Kakapo: the conservation of the world's most peculiar parrot. Bird Conservation International 8: 281-296.

Clout, M.N., Elliott, G.P. and Robertson, B.C. 2002. Effects of supplementary feeding on the offspring sex ratio of kakapo: a dilemma for the conservation of a polygynous parrot. Biological Conservation 107(1): 13-18.

Collar, N. and Sharpe, C.J. 2014. Kakapo (Strigops habroptila). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. and de Juana, E. (eds), Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Collar, N. J.; Butchart, S. H. M. 2013. Conservation breeding and avian diversity: chances and challenges. International Zoo Yearbook.

Cresswell, M. 1996. Kakapo recovery plan 1996-2005. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

David, N. and Gosselin, M. 2002. Gender agreement of avian species names. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 122: 14-49.

Harper, G. A.; Elliott, G. P.; Eason, D. K.; Moorhouse, R. J. 2006. What triggers nesting of Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus)? Notornis 53(1): 160-163.

Higgins, P. J. 1999. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds: parrots to dollarbirds. Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

Hirschfeld, E. 2008. Rare Birds Yearbook 2009: the world's 190 most threatened birds. MagDig Media Ltd., Shrewsbury, UK.

IUCN. 2001. IUCN Red List categories and criteria: version 3.1. IUCN, Gland & Cambridge.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Kakapo Recovery. 2014. Kakapo Recovery Science Update - August 2014. Department of Conservation - Te Papa Atawhai, Invercagill, New Zealand.

Lloyd, B. D.; Powlesland, R. G. 1994. The decline of Kakapo Strigops habroptilus and attempts at conservation by translocation. Biological Conservation 69: 75-85.

Merton, D. 1997. Kakapo update. PsittaScene 9(1): 3-4.

Merton, D. 1998. Kakapo update.

Merton, D. 2009. Kakapo news. PsittaScene 21(3): 18.

Merton, D. V. 2006. The Kakapo: some highlights and lessons from five decades of applied conservation. Journal of Ornithology 147(5): 4.

Merton, D.; Clout, M. 1998. Red Data Bird: Kakapo Strigops habroptilus. World Birdwatch 20: 20-21.

Merton, D.; Clout, M. 1999. Kakapo: back from the brink. Wingspan 9(2): 14-17.

Merton, D.; Reed, C.; Crouchley, D. 1999. Recovery strategies and techniques for three free-living, critically-endangered New Zealand birds: Kakapo Strigops habroptilus, Black Stilt Himantopus novaezelandiae and Takahe Porphyrio mantelli. In: Roth, T.L.; Swanson, W.F.; Blattman, L.K. (ed.), Proceedings 7th world conference on breeding endangered species, pp. 151-162. Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Cincinnati.

Powlesland, R. G.; Merton, D. V.; Cockrem, J. F. 2006. A parrot apart: the natural history of the Kakapo (Strigops habroptila), and the context of its conservation management. Notornis 53(1): 3-26.

Raubenheimer, D.; Simpson, S. J. 2006. The challenge of supplementary feeding: can geometric analysis help save the Kakapo? Notornis 53(1): 100-111.

Robertson, H.A., Karika, I. and Saul, E.K. 2006. Translocation of Rarotonga monarchs Pomarea dimidiata within the Southern Cook Islands. Bird Conservation International 16(3): 197-215.

Further web sources of information
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Kakapo Recovery Programme

New Zealand Govt - Dept of Conservation - Recovery Plan - Part 1

New Zealand Govt - Dept of Conservation - Recovery Plan - Part 2

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., McClellan, R., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Temple, H., Ashpole, J

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Strigops habroptila. Downloaded from on 25/11/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 25/11/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Kakapo (Strigops habroptila) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Critically Endangered
Family Strigopidae (New Zealand Parrots)
Species name author Gray, 1845
Population size 110 mature individuals
Population trend Increasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 26 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species